Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Reading Envy 085: An Acquired Taste

Thomas Otto (from The Readers) stops by the Reading Envy Pub to chat books. Jenny also tries one of Thomas's favorite authors!

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 085: An Acquired Taste.

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The first Reading Envy Readalong is coming in May next week!

Books featured:

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
Ben, In the World by Doris Lessing
No Knives in the Kitchens of this City by Khaled Khalifa
The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

Other mentions:

Anita Brookner
Barbara Pym
Margaret Atwood
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My Antonia by Willa Cather
The Professor's House by Willa Cather
O, Pioneers! by Willa Cather
Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Gila National Forest
Chris Wolack and the Book Cougars Podcast
Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
Lewis Percy by Anita Brookner
Providence by Anita Brookner
Adolphe by Benjamin Constant
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
The Possession by A.S. Byatt
Penelope Lively
Euphoria by Lily King
Grace Notes by Bernard MacLaverty
Orfeo by Richard Powers
The Student Conductor by Robert Ford
The Song of Names by Norman Lebrecht
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Stalk us online:

Jenny at GoodReads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy
Thomas on The Readers Podcast
Thomas on Twitter
Thomas at his blog, hogglestock

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Review: One Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment

One Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment One Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment by Mei Fong
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I felt it was well-researched and covered a wide range of topics that either impact or are impacted by China's One Child policy, I did not particularly enjoy reading this book. But since it was for my book club, I soldiered on.

One big issue is that while I typically enjoy memoir and personal essay, I don't think it worked well for the author to share her own fertility issues and Chinese heritage narrative. She is trying to tie her story to the Chinese story, but I felt it diluted the focus of the book. The power of personal narratives to explain facets of the story came from the people she interviewed, heard about, or saw on international news, in the case of Feng Jianmei (I can only humbly recommend not Google image searching this poor woman who was forced to have a late-term abortion in 2012).

Otherwise, I was most interested in some of the offshoot issues that I had not considered - that most Asian countries have had major reductions in birthrate simply through propaganda and education programs, even China prior to the program had cut birthrate in half; the longreaching impact on the tax base and elder care that China will suffer despite the recent reduction of this policy; the exploration into how much of the international adoption of Chinese girls may have been a result of human trafficking (awful); what happens when men outnumber women 129 to 100.

This reminds me of a weird moment where the author points out moments in history caused by an abundance of men, and she includes the Arab Spring, which made me think she assumed that was a negative event, and now I just feel confused.

We talk sometimes at work about how this increased pressure on each "one child," to succeed not just for themselves but for their two parents and four grandparents, can impact our international students from China. As we've seen an increase of Chinese students, this has become a bigger topic. Mei Fong shows an interesting side to the "one child," that of the "little emperor" - her description of the character studies of Chinese children vs. other Asian children with siblings sounds pretty similar to the stereotypes of Millennials - self-absorbed, seeking approval, but combined with a far lesser collaborative instinct. I'm not sure what to think of studies like this, if they really can effectively show a distinction. But it was interesting just the same.

I can't let this review go by without saying that despite the topic, I was still surprised by some of the graphic detail inside this book. Dead bodies, fetuses, blood. It caught me off guard. I think I expected this to be more philosophical and less biological. I'm not sure why I had that impression, but please consider whether that is content you want to bring into your life before reading.

View all my reviews

Review: Hold Your Own

Hold Your Own Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The framework of this poetry collection is based on the myth of the blind prophet Tiresias, who lived for some time in both the male and female gender. Truth be told, I'm still a bit cold on mythological beings, and these poems were my least favorite of the lot. It is clear that Tempest found quite a bit of symmetry with Tiresias, and many poems outside the Tiresias-specific poems also look at gender through lenses of love, relationships, and stereotypes. (But at one point, she uses the word tranny, something I see as a slur, and I can only hope that it is somehow different in her south London world.)

My #1 poem from the entire collection:

Thirteen (see the poet perform it on YouTube

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Review: Midwinter

Midwinter Midwinter by Fiona Melrose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is probably more of a 3.5 star read for me, rounded up, because I stalled in a major way at one point, and didn't think the dips into Zambia were necessary (in fact it felt a bit like using the "other" as the easy villain when there are worse villains at hand - alcoholism, poverty, disappointment.) Other than my minor complaints, I enjoyed the focused story of a father and son dealing with grief and anger and struggling through two major incidents in their lives, one more recent than the other. It helped to have the chapters alternate between father and son.

I would look forward to another book by this author.

View all my reviews

Review: The Solace of Open Spaces

The Solace of Open Spaces The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I requested this title in NetGalley, I did not realize it was an older book of essays coming up for a reprinting. I actually have another book from the author on my "around the world" shelves at home - This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland. So she was on my vague periphery, but I was very happy to have had a chance to read this book, even if it isn't new.

In the late 1970s, Ehrlich travels to Wyoming on a documentary assignment. Her then-lover ends up dying, and she just stays and stays. This book collects her writings about the wide-open, the west, the prairie, and the people who live there. I understand that she first wrote these as journal entries, then as letters, and eventually revised them into a publishable form.

I loved them. I loved her insight into the sometimes elusive ranchers, sheepherders, farmhands, and cowboys. I loved her insight into herself. I loved her attention to details in nature, her ability to stop, slow down, and pay attention. I didn't include any of those quotes here since technically I have a review copy, but may return to this space once it is back out.

Thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Media for the chance to read this forgotten gem.

View all my reviews

Review: Rowing Inland

Rowing Inland Rowing Inland by Jim Daniels
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

These poems are very place-based, from Jim Daniels' childhood up through experiences as a teen and adult, in a Detroit already headed toward obliteration. Imagine Eminem's uncle, living a few streets up from 8 Mile, his parents hard-working factory workers, and that seems about right.

As I was going through the collection, I found something to like on almost every page. So here are some of the top highlights:

Welcome to Warren
III. Hidden Beauty

"This won't hurt. It'll just
kill you. On this church
I shall build my rock.
Upsidedownville is conducting
a recount, demanding the beer
and the chair, offering only
the Elusive Smirk in exchange...."

And how's this for a childhood:
Welcome to Warren
VI. The End of Childhood

"The gentle stench of poisoned weeds
the absence of stately trees, adult supervision
wide, flat factories
and the chemical tar of their parking lots.
Gearless bicycles and greasy rags
and rolled-up T-shirts, the foreign tenderness
of girls we shied away from, then dreamt about...."

Crayola Trailer Park Eight-Pack
"....Prayer: subtle opaque blue murmur.
Creates mirages. Erases as it goes."

Quitting the Day Job in the Middle Ages
"...Here in the Rust Belt of the Flyover States

I fill out my forms, press hard
on my memorized numbers.

That sound you hear is either
the sound of the drain sucking down

the last bit of moisture
or milk telling lies to my cereal."

You can see the poet read from this collection on YouTube.

(Thanks to the publisher for sending an eGalley through Edelweiss, which I saved for National Poetry Month.)

View all my reviews

Monday, April 17, 2017

Library Books Mid-April 2017

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
Brand New Ancients by Kate Tempest
Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest
Judas by Amos Oz
Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti
Midwinter by Fiona Melrose
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

This was a smaller library month, probably because I still had so many that I had checked out in previous months. In fact, I was really able to clear out some of those piles in the first few weeks of April.

The two Tempest volumes are for National Poetry month, Crispin and Valenti accompany my ongoing feminism reading, Melrose and Tremain are from the Bailey's Prize longlist, and Barnes is just... because.